Review: Ride-Off (Polo #2) by Mickie B. Ashling

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Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Ride-Off coverPreston Fawkes and Konrad Schnell are finding it tougher than they had imagined to begin their new life together after their long separation.  With families to combine as well as ranches,  Preston and Kon are also dealing with the physical and emotional aftermath of Kon’s airplane crash, subsequent years of amnesia, and  their desperate need for each other that is taking priority over everything and everyone else in their life, including their children.

Kon’s son, Bandi wants to play polo but has entered the game with three disadvantages.  One is that he is older than the other players and everyone suspects that it is because of his father, Preson and his lover Ned that is getting him ahead and spots on the team instead of his talent.  Sasha Fawkes has always been the only son but now he not only has to share his dad with Kon but with Bandi and the newly arrived Paloma as well.  And Sasha is not happy at all.  He is struggling with his career as a actor and the lack of a love life and a secret that he has kept hidden from his father for years.  Then Paloma, his step sister, arrives from South America, demanding her father’s time, money as well as expertise and the situation with all the children explodes into an emotional mess with  reverberations for all.  What a Thanksgiving the Fawkes-Schnell family is having but there is more to come as an evil from the past invades their lives, shaking them to their very foundations of love and family.

Well, lets start off with the positive things about Ride-Off, the second in the Polo series by Mickie B. Ashling.  I did like this story better than its precursor.  With more family members included in the storyline, it achieved a more cohesive balance as far as characterizations and relationships than the previous story.  In fact, the Prologue is the scene of a sexual attack on another member of the Fawkes family, although the identity of this person is not revealed until later in the story.  The relationship of Konrad Schnell and Preston Fawkes serves as a foundation but not truly the only focus of Ride-Off. That job is left to their combined family of Bandi, Sasha, and Paloma  and their significant others.

Each son is given their own portion of the story, including current drama and items from the past that are impinging upon their future.  Conrad “Sasha” Fawkes is perhaps the most destabilized of all the children by their fathers intense and all consuming relationship.  He is, by his own words, pouting and upset that he is no longer just the focus of his father’s admiration and attention. I suspect how you relate to Sasha will color how highly you will enjoy this book as this character and his actions take over the story.  I found myself unable to relate to him at all in the beginning but as new information about his past is revealed, this character becomes an object of our sympathies.  And that change in outlook with help engage our affections for Sasha as the story unfolds.  Side by side with Sasha is Jeremy, a flamboyant makeup artist with his own agenda.  I adored Jeremy.  His character almost made the story for me.  His is a layered persona that just oozes charm along with a depth of character sometimes missing from the other “players” in the story.

Bandi, his older lover Ned, and Paloma the step sister who arrives to upset their relationship as well as everyone elses around her become more like satellite characters, reduced to secondary status by the stories of Kon and Preston, and Sasha and Jeremy.  In fact Ned leaves halfway through only to reappear at the end and tie up the loose threads of his and Bandi’s relationship.  Only Paloma remains strong enough of a character to hold her own against those other couples and the author’s need to tell their stories. The fact that Paloma is such a great character that she grabs our attention in a small amount of time demonstrates Ashling’s ability to create characters that achieve instant popularity with their  personas even if we may not always like their actions, something the author did with Preston Fawkes, Paloma’s father.

The sport of polo itself is reduced to a minor character here although the people on whom the story is focused are almost constantly talking about it.   People ride or practice the game in small asides but the game itself is lost in this book.  I don’t have an issue with this, just made note of it.

More problematic is the use of bdsm in Preston and Kon’s relationship.  I do have issues with this element of the story and have done my best to research it in hopes to resolve the “red flags” that popped up in the manner in which this alternative sexuality is used.  Instead of resolving my questions it only served to further highlight them.

Here’s the deal.  Kon’s son was attacked back in Russia and he has not dealt with that fact.  So he is angry, along with untreated PTSD issues from his injuries from his airplane crash.  He won’t attend “normal” therapy sessions so their friend, a doctor and Dom, suggests BDSM as a form of therapy, a way to work through his anger issues. And that raised the first flag.  I searched throughout the internet and couldn’t find any known medically approved usage of bdsm as a therapy tool.  Nor any doctor or group to proscribe its usage in this manner.  Perhaps Ashling can point to another source I couldn’t locate, but I couldn’t find one.  Now take that fact and add to it the following facts and perhaps you will start to see the real problem here.  I will list them as they are mentioned in the story:

1.  No Safe Word. Kon and Pres discarded the use of it because they only have these “scenes infrequently”. But that only makes a safe word more important, not less.  If these “bdsm scenes” are used infrequently than how are the partners to know each others typical physical responses to the violence that is occurring?  Familiarity is helpful in these situations so a partner can tell when it is getting out of control and stop the scene.

2. Intense physical fighting,rage with dry penetration, to the point one person has to be “snapped out of it” because he no longer recognizes his partner. The one person is attacking the other, substituting him for the man who sexually abused his son. (another huge flag). The author has one partner “snap” the other one out of it by kissing and saying I love you. Not a recommended procedure because you are supposed to use words that are not ordinarily in use, not ones you use in your day to day relationship.

3.  The promotion of this as a type of therapy by a doctor friend although I can’t find any mention of such anywhere on medical sites. or even dubious sites. Yes, the man is a Dom and their friend but as he is also mentioned as the doctor they went to for help with Konrad’s mental and emotional issues, he is also acting as their physician.

4.   Another issue that bothered me was making your partner “a target” of all that anger by imagining them as the person who attacked their son.  I still wonder at the damage that might inflict on a relationship.  Because the subconscious is a tricky thing and even though those scenes were infrequent in the story, a seed has been planted that could be poisonous later on.

I spoke to several people, one from the local bdsm dungeon and another familiar with the lifestyle, about the manner in which bdsm (resistance and bondage, even autoerotic asphyxiation) is used here.  Both acknowledged that they found it not only “unusual” but  in one person’s words “scary”.

It would take someone with more insight and knowledge of the bdsm lifestyle then myself to know whether the author has truly portrayed it accurately but the aspects of its use as it pertains to Jon and Preaston relationship that I have mentioned continue to bother me.  So many readers take it to be “gospel” if it is in a book.  And from the information I did gather in no way should any of the mentioned bdsm elements in Ride Off be taken as “gospel”.  Perhaps this won’t bother you as a reader but if accuracy matters, than you might want to conduct your own research and come to your own conclusions, just as I have.

Finally, there are a few other quibbles to mention.  Another sexual attack on a minor that appears at the beginning of the story and then disappears until the author trots it out again towards the end to insert a certain amount of angst and drama seems contrived and unnecessary because there are so many other good things about Ride-Off to enjoy.  I liked Sasha and Jeremy, I liked parts of Kon and Preston.  I also enjoyed the heck out of Paloma.  Weighing the finer points of this story against those issues raised by the author’s use of bdsm kept this book’s rating firmly in the middle of the scale.  If those things don’t bother you, than you might consider this a 4 star story and enjoy it more throughly than I did.

I would recommend this book to those of you who loved Fire Horse (Polo #1) and the other offerings by this author.  I would also recommend it with reservations to others looking for a story with multiple love relationships, including those with a kink, and a family saga to go along with it.  But take heed and don’t take the bdsm at face value.  Do your own research, make up your own mind. And then tell me what you thought about this story and that aspect of it.  I can’t wait to hear what you thought about it all.  Write me.

Cover art by Anne Cain is absolutely gorgeous and perfect for the series and novel within.

Book Details:

Paperback, 240 pages
Published October 18th 2013 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN 1627982647 (ISBN13: 9781627982641)
series Polo

Attack of the Planked Salmon and the Week Ahead in Reviews

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This year we have had a real, honest to God or Goddess spring.  The weather has been seasonally cool, with light  winds and rain as appropriate.  No snow (sorry, Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan), no heatwave, just spring and we are not sure how to deal with this phenomenon.  How quickly we have forgotten that it is not safe to plant annuals before the first week of May.  And board shorts and flip flops won’t be needed really until the end of May or June.  But one thing is always constant. And that is that spring and summer always herald is the advent of  the grill season.

We started grilleing a week or two ago just as the weather started turning lovely and the ponds and small spring in the backyard called to us to come out and sit a while.  And up until yesterday, all of our grilled dinners were delicious and uneventful.  Then we decided that planked Salmon would be just the thing for Saturday’s dinner.  Off we went to Harris Teeters to buy our fresh salmon and asparagus, then home to soak the planks and get everything ready.  I had gotten another flat of red double begonias for the bed in the front yard (needed some extra pop of color), and the cedar planks were in the sink, soaking away.  We had the glaze mixed and ready to go.  When the time came, the salmon and asparagus cooked beautifully and perfectly on their planks and the meal was wonderful.  We sat outside, with our wine, salmon and Bogle Sauvignon Blanc, and dogs of course  and basked in the serenity of the gardens and afternoon sun.  Then my own special hell hit me with a ferocity that would make the Hulk blink.

You see I keep forgetting that salmon hates me or that my insides hate such a rich and fatty fish.  I can eat it about once a year but no more and I already had my one salmon meal earlier in March.  Oh the idiosyncrasies of my aging mind , yeay, that’s what I keep telling myself it is but really, I just wanted that darn salmon.  It started ominously just a  few hours later.  A slight twinge and a “oh no, maybe it will pass” thought.  But I knew I was not to be so lucky and by early evening, I was commode hugging, Bluto frat boy sick.   I mean I haven’t been that nauseous since my college days of Old Frothingslosh and cemetery running.  Don’t ask.

By 10:30pm I was actively praying to the gods of Bacchus or anyone else that would listen, to let me just die in my bed before I had to race back to the bathroom, hoping desperately to make it there in time for some more porcelain worshiping.   Willow was hiding under the bed, watching with great fascination, Kirby was racing with me, thinking it was a game and Winston of course was sleeping off his bits of salmon.  Oh to be a dog, eat some grass and go on about one’s business.  And finally it passed, leaving me a wreck in the bed, and thinking “never again”.  Sigh.

So that was the great salmon attack.  But for those of you lucky enough to eat salmon with a nonchalance I admire, I have included the recipe at the end of the post.  Try it out and let me know what you think.  We used honey and it was delicious but the maple syrup would be great too.

So here is the week ahead in book reviews:

Monday, May 6:                      Fire Horse by Mickie B. Ashling

Tuesday, May 7:                      Leaving Home by T.A. Chase

Wed., May 8:                           Shy by John Inman

Thursday, May 9:                   The Hellfire Legacy by Missouri Dalton

Friday, May 10:                      His Heart To Reap by Erin Lane

Saturday, May 11:                   City Mouse by Amy Lane and Aleksandr Voinov

So there you have it.  It looks to be a great week.  Now if I can just stay away from those oysters……

Here is the Planked Salmon Recipe from Epicurious.com:

yield: Makes 6 servings
active time: 30 min
total time: 2 1/2 hr
Ingredients:

2 tablespoons grainy mustard
2 tablespoons mild honey or pure maple syrup
1 teaspoon minced rosemary
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
1 (2-pounds) salmon fillet with skin (1 1/2 inches thick)

Equipment: a cedar grilling plank (about 15 by 6 inches)

Cooking:

Soak cedar grilling plank in water to cover 2 hours, keeping it immersed.
Prepare grill for direct-heat cooking over medium-hot charcoal (medium-high heat for gas); see Grilling Procedure . Open vents on bottom and lid of charcoal grill.
Stir together mustard, honey, rosemary, zest, and 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Spread mixture on flesh side of salmon and let stand at room temperature 15 minutes.
Put salmon on plank, skin side down (if salmon is too wide for plank, fold in thinner side to fit). Grill, covered with lid, until salmon is just cooked through and edges are browned, 13 to 15 minutes. Let salmon stand on plank 5 minutes before serving.